By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
The new adaptation of “Murder on the Orient Express”
is an aesthetically pleasing yet mildly entertaining take on Agatha Christie’s classic 1934 novel.
Is it better than director Sidney Lumet’s original 1974 movie which starred Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins, Albert Finney, Ingrid Bergman (in an Oscar-winning “Best Supporting Actress” performance), Lauren Bacall and John Gielgud?
Come on. Don’t be silly. It would take a lot to top that grand affair.
However, this version, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, does manage to capture moments of its cartier replica
predecessor’s 1930s grandeur. Credit that to a winning ensemble cast featuring Academy Award-winners Judi Dench and Penelope Cruz, along with Oscar nominees Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer and Willem Dafoe.
Branagh stars as the Belgian, supersleuth, Hercule Poirot and sports a massive and “magnificent” mustache which makes him even more intriguing.
After cracking another case in record time, this one in Jerusalem, Poirot needs some down time and with the help of his train executive friend Bouc (Tom Bateman, “Snatched”), he’s able to get aboard the fancy Orient Express for his three-day trip.
The Orient Express is filled with a bunch of well-heeled and interesting characters and Poirot, ever the detective, gives them the look over without really looking as if he’s looking them over.
While seated alone and enjoying a delightful book, Poirot is taken aback when approached by American art dealer Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp, upcoming “Sherlock Gnomes”). Edward is convinced someone’s out to kill him and he wants to hire Poirot to find out who it is. Edward offers Poirot a lot of money, but the detective doesn’t want anything to do with him.
However, the next day, an avalanche derails the train and Edward turns up dead. Now Poirot must try and solve this murder. Since Edward was a shady art dealer and most likely sold some phony pieces to people over the years, they might be trying to get even with him now. The list of potential suspects is long and could be just about anyone on the train including his put upon assistant Hector MacQueen (Josh Gad, “Marshall”) or his butler (Derek Jacobi,” “Stratton”).
You can’t rule out the sexpot widow Caroline Hubbard, (a sensational Michelle Pfeiffer, “Mother!”) who Edward rubbed the wrong way on the train.
Rounding out this motley crew is the governess Miss Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”) who is carrying on a not so secret affair with Dr. Arbuthnot (Leslie Odum Jr, “Hamilton”), the regal Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench, “Victoria and Abdul”) and her hired help Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Coleman, TV’s “Broadchurch”).
Pilar Estravados (Penelope Cruz, TV’s “American Crime Story”) doesn’t look all that wholesome either. Biniamino Marquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, “The Magnificent Seven”) the Cuban auto magnate has a shyster streak about him and why is professor Gerhard Hardman so fidgety?
There are 13 people in all who may know more than they’re letting on, but if anyone can solve this crime caper it’s Poirot.
Screenwriter Michael Green (“Blade Runner 2049,” “Logan” and “Alien: Covenant”) adds a few new wrinkles and sprinkles a bit of humor in this nostalgic mix to keep “Murder on the Orient Express” rolling along at a fairly even pace. Yet, even when the dinner theatre styled suspense starts to build, it’s rather tempered. Of course, those who’ve read Christie’s classic tale or seen the numerous films, knows how this whodunnit unfolds.
Still, while “Murder on the Orient Express” may be a familiar journey, it’s a lavishly styled one and worth hoping aboard.
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Watch This Trailer For "MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS"
Lana K. Wilson-Combs is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics’ Association (BFCA), the Black Reel Awards Voting Academy and a Nominating Committee Voting Member.